Like a few of our other Pilgrims in Residence, I first met Pat online through our mutual interest in pilgrimage and spiritual practices. Now that I’m back in Seattle, I’ve been able to meet Pat in person, and even briefly sat in a class he was teaching at The Seattle School early last month. Pat has been the adjunct instructor of spiritual formation at The Seattle School for the past two years and recently returned from a pilgrimage to Iona with fellow members of The Seattle School community. As a spiritual guide himself, I knew I wanted him to share the story of his journey here, letting us in on his own experience and also what it’s like to guide others. -Lacy
“There are places that seem
to expect us:
to take us in like pilgrims
from the way ahead
to tell us suddenly
and without fanfare
of a new beginning
made out of nothing
but the way we got here,
as if the hard road
of difficulty and despair
and minor triumph
that brought us here
could make sense
simply by the nature
of a particular geographic
“Etruscan Tomb,” from the poetry collection Pilgrim
I should have expected it, reflecting back in hindsight. In the days before I left for my most recent pilgrimage to Iona, a cacophony of Resistance sprung up to discourage me, derail me, or outright put me on a different route entirely.
I had a setback in a work project that needed to be completed before I could leave. I came down with the stomach virus that my kids had fought in the days before, the very same one that initiated upheaval events numbering into the double digits. The credit card I was using for trip costs decided to hold a substantial portion of my available credit. Then, on the day of my flights from Seattle to London and then to Glasgow, my first flight was delayed by hours and my connecting flight to Glasgow was cancelled.
This pre-trip Resistance wasn’t new to me.
On a previous pilgrimage, a walking tour of Eastern Orthodox lands, I broke my ankle carrying my bag to the car on the way to the airport. I went anyway, relying on a walking boot and the generous donation of painkillers from one of my travel mates. (It was on this trip that I learned that family and friends back home don’t want to see photos of my one normal ankle, and one hideously swollen ankle as part of my Facebook updates.)
On another pilgrimage, I made the mistake of leaving a backpack in an airport garbage can while trying to reduce my checked luggage count flying home fromGlasgow airport. I hadn’t realized, until a pair of security personnel took me away for a chat, that three weeks before the same airport had been bombed. Fellow travelers were understandably nervous seeing an oblivious lad shoving a backpack into a lounge rubbish bin.
Resistance tried to distract me, but I knew that I needed this journey. I needed to experience Iona once again, this time for longer than a short day, now having many years of reading, reflecting, and study informing this trip. I needed to put my boots—or better, my feet—onto the beaches and the trails that the great Celtic saint Columba had walked after his exile from Ireland, and from which the great Celtic saint Aidan was sent to Lindisfarne. I needed to see the skies that they saw, and feel the breeze that they felt, to wrestle with the mysteries of calling and vocation that they both experienced, and to feel the memory of the sea that continues to encompass the island of Iona.
Stephen Pressfield writes in The War of Art that Resistance shows itself in a variety of scenarios. Resistance arrives whenever we launch any new entrepreneurial venture, when we begin a program of spiritual advancement, when we attempt to overcome any unwholesome habits, when we seek education of any kind, when we decide with courage to change an unhealthy lifestyle pattern, and when we initiate an act that entails commitment of the heart, along with a few other triggers. It seems to me that beginning a pilgrimage with an openness toward listening to, perceiving and obeying the Spirit at least checks off these boxes.
Resistance will do its best to keep us in our habitual everyday momentums, where we feel comfortable, safe and at no risk of transformation.
Yet Pilgrimage is distinct from Travel, or its cousin Vacation, precisely because we want to find a different sense of meaning in our experience. We want those beaches and trails to shift us and root is in our own beachheads and journeys.
Phil Cousineau, in his essential work on pilgrimage, The Art of Pilgrimage: A Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, says this about the expectation of meaning:
“What unites the different forms of Pilgrimage is intensity of intention, the soul’s desire to respond to return to the center, whether it portends ecstasy or agony. What makes the pilgrimage sacred is the longing behind the journey…”
During my previous brief time on Iona I had thought that I was on an educational tour but discovered that I was instead on Pilgrimage. On this second journey, I accompanied an educational pilgrimage, but I was more deeply aware of the longing of intention that my soul carried.
The trip’s beginning swirled with distractions and with valiant attempts by Resistance, but my soul knew better than to focus on such petty details. Instead, it knew that the longing of intention was sparked by the God of Columba and of Aidan and who spoke Iona into existence and now was speaking to me: “Come, walk with Me.”
How do you sense the desire of your soul to return to its center? How is this pursuit of meaning being stymied by the attempts of Resistance to distract you on your journey? Leave your response in the comments.